The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

An American Dissident Literary Survey

The following literary survey was created and disseminated by the editor, then published in Counterpoise for Social Responsibilities, Liberty, and Dissent, a journal distributed to libraries across the nation.  The latter made a call for the implicated journals to comment on the survey.  In particular, it requested comment from Casey and Denise Hill (, who, despite themselves, sparked the idea for the survey. Regarding vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy, the curt reply, issued by the Hills, sadly sums up the general attitude of those embedded—mind and soul—into the academic/literary established order.  They are depicted on the cover of The American Dissident, issue #19 (see NewPages).

" refuses to dignify the opinions of G. Tod Slone."

When literary journals receive public monies in the form of NEA or state and local cultural council grants, they should be required to respond to the public.  The results of the following literary survey prove the large majority of journals to be sadly non-responsive.  Yet dialogue and vigorous debate are essential for any thriving democracy, as well as for a vibrant literature, which is why the survey was created and sent to 130 of the supposed “best” literary journals in the nation, each supposedly “handsomely designed,” in the words of which lists them.  Indeed, “handsomely designed,” more than anything else, might very well define the “high-end” literary journal today. 
Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, only one of those journals filled out the survey.  However, four others responded (see below).  A month later and in vain, a reminder informing the editors that only one of them had filled it out was sent.  None responded to that reminder.  Why therefore the widespread lack of desire for debate?  No time?  Yet plenty of time for bureaucratic endeavors!  Time only to self-congratulate?  But perhaps the prime reason for the lack of responsiveness was the absence of need to “capitulate.”  After all, the survey was not created by a person with a “badge” or “name” (see quote above).  Also, the survey had the audacity to question and challenge the very placidity of the established-order in which most of these journal editors prospered. 

Finally, in literary communities embedded with herd mentality, it is impossible to alter opinions with logic, let alone facts.  Thus, the real purpose of this survey-essay was to simply let those communities know that not all citizens interested in literature are unquestioning and unchallenging with its regard.  Indeed, some of us do not find their particular journals to be the “best” at all.  After all, high brow is by no means a synonym for “best.” 

The few who responded to the survey circumvented or ignored the questions regarding censorship.  Sadly, they also underscored their lack of time for vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy.  Vivian Dorsel, editor of upstreet, wrote the following: 

I’m writing to you in an attempt to address your concerns to the extent possible without having to spend the prohibitive amount of time it would take me to conscientiously respond to the 16 questions in your survey. (I am so busy that the alternative would have been to ignore the whole thing.)  […]As far as where upstreet is listed is concerned, I list with NewPages for the same reason that I list with Duotrope, Writer’s Market online, Preditors & Editors, and CRWROPPS, and place ads in Poets & Writers and The AWP Writers’ Chronicle: these are the ways available to me for generating submissions. If you have any better (or equivalent) ideas, perhaps you will let me know about them.  […] 

Margarita Donnelly for Calyx sent a short email: 
Sorry, we are every [sic] small non-profit publisher whose editors are volunteers. We don’t have time to fill out your somewhat complicated survey, especially since so many of the questions are leading ones.  

The response I sent back to Donnelly went unanswered: 

But you simply state you don’t have the time (or rather interest!) to fill out a survey on status-quo literary journals in America.  Why then are you even involved in editing a literary journal?  Is the survey really that “complicated”?  If the questions are indeed “leading ones,” what are they clearly leading to?  I’ll help you:  They are clearly leading to, or rather they are a plea for, vigorous debate in the literary agora—a questioning and challenging of the literary status quo, its mandarins, its canon, its prizes, its lit journals, etc.  Unfortunately, most proponents of status-quo literature simply… don’t have the time… or perhaps rather fear open debate.  What is it that you therefore fear???

Simone dos Anjos, Editor-in-Chief of Modern Review, which had published a long essay of mine highly critical of poets and academics, wrote the following: 

I feel for you, but this survey really doesn't apply to us.  We're a tiny journal, and don't claim to be any of the following: "finest, best, original, unique, high quality, innovative, excellent, exciting, cutting edge, eclectic, and award winning."

By the way, truth is far more important to me than building bridges, which is why I dared upset the Modern-Review bridge in the following response, which went unanswered. Too many bridges lead to inevitable diminution of truth. 

Hi Simone,
Clearly, the survey does apply to you because you are listed with, a rather smug literary censor.  Rather than "feel", action would be more appropriate in a democracy.  Protest against censorship would be more appropriate, rather than "feel" for the censored.  Please reconsider filling out the survey.  Take your time.  Thank you. 

            Phil Hey, fiction editor for The Briar Cliff Review, with whom I’d engaged in a dialogue de sourds over the past five years or so, wrote the following… and then some: 

Not speaking for anyone but myself – and certainly not for The Briar Cliff Review – why should I respond to a survey whose author has as a major mission the dissing of college, collegians, and good publications?  In passing, you’re tarring academe with a too-broad brush, and in doing so you (again) slur some people I know well who are trying to make the world a better place.  For example, there are college officers who do indeed refer to students not as clients but as customers, and the constant faculty response is to correct that misprision.  I have no difficulty with using “clients;” students are paying for my professional services in somewhat the same way they would pay lawyers etc.  Sometimes I have to remind the administration that students can be closer to patients.  But then why should you believe me? As I recall, you already convinced yourself that I’ve sold out.

Hey simply refused to forward the survey to the main editor, despite my request.  His response follows: 

I’m the fiction editor of BCR, not the head editor – who is one of the busiest persons I know and has no time to respond to surveys.  […] But for the record, the editor of the BCR is a great teacher and colleague, a truth-seeker and –teller who indeed makes the world a better place. You can go on with your drivel, but I know better.

My response to Hey was the following:  It is sad and incomprehensible that a head editor of a literary journal such as Briar Cliff Review would argue he has no time to respond to a literary survey and no time to debate literary issues.  Certainly, it is sad for students of literature under his tutelage.  It is sad and unfortunate that my continuous observations support the hypothesis that the large majority of academics have indeed sold out truth and democracy to money and security.  It is not I who “tars” academe, but they.  Your “too-broad brush” argument of academics “trying to make the world a better place” is yet another example of the rampant back-slapping and self-congratulating made possible by rampant lack of accountability I’ve personally witnessed in academe.  Academics in general tend to detest the First Amendment and vigorous debate because they are frightened such might serve to expose them.  It is so much more pleasant to operate in the ivory-tower cocoon.  A real “great teacher” and “truth-seeker and –teller” would never be too busy to engage in visceral debate regarding literature and democracy.  A real "truth-seeker and -teller" could never be a good, let alone great, colleague... for evident reasons.  So, you too are indifferent to censorship.

As for the sole person who filled out the survey, Richard Peabody, editor of Gargoyle Magazine, his responses are included after each question below.  Clearly, it did not take him great toil and hours to respond.  


The Literary Survey

Preliminary Note
A few of you know me and consider me persona non grata in the academic/literary, established-order milieu and would wish my voice to be fully censored and otherwise eliminated from the agora of ideas.  The question thus remains for the rest of you:  Should the information and truths sought from this survey be censored from that agora?  The last question in the survey is probably the most pertinent with regards the revelation of a particular truth that perhaps most of you, as 501 (c)3 nonprofit literary journals, are probably willfully breaking the spirit of the law by not permitting voice to those who would disagree with your claims that you are publishing the “best” et al (see the regulation below). 

This survey on literary journals is being performed in the context of a larger continuing study on the state of the academic/literary, established-order milieu and is being carried out by the editor of The American Dissident, a biannual 501 (c)3 nonprofit literary journal of critical creative writing providing a forum for examining the dark side of the academic/literary industrial complex.  The journal was founded in 1998 as a direct response to corruption experienced first-hand at Fitchburg State College (Fitchburg, MA).  The editor has a doctorate and has taught full time at six different institutions of so-called higher learning since 1980.  

The results of this survey will be published in essay form and include your comments.  Hopefully, one of you will express interest in publishing it.  If not, The American Dissident will publish it. 

This survey was inspired by the recent censorship of my ideas by the Academy of American Poets, which “banned” me from posting on its online forums (see the uncensored transcript et al at AcademyAmericanPoets).  It was also inspired by the email exchange I had with Casey Hill, publisher of, with regards his refusal to include The American Dissident.  When I protested, he mocked me, calling me a “dork” and “American Pisser and Moaner.”  He also belittled my concerns regarding censorship, labeling them “censor crap.”  “It is because we do a good job at filtering that amateur magazines like American Dissident aren’t listed,” noted Hill, who had never even examined a copy of the journal.  

Method of Selection
Each of you, roughly 130 publishers, have been contacted because your literary journal is listed with, “Guide to Literary Magazines—Complete Listings.”   Also, as a whole, you constitute the very cream of the crop, at least according to  “You tell me which great lit mags we don't list,” argued Hill.  You have also been chosen because you tend to qualify your respective journals as “finest,” “best,” “original,” “unique,” “high quality,” “innovative,” “excellent,” “exciting,” “cutting edge,” “eclectic,” and “award winning.” 

Hopefully, because of your interest in literature and free speech, you will take part in the survey and answer the following questions with a yes or no, then with a comment, if you like.  In a month’s time, I’ll assume your answer is no.  And if your answer is no, I’ll also assume you are somewhat indifferent to matters of censorship and free speech and expression.  Please simply copy the questions and place your answers after each, then email them to me. 

Editors and publishers, in this case of “high-end” literary journals, tend to be grossly indifferent to issues of censorship, as well as free speech and expression, as long as those issues do not concern them directly.  Also, if one is not part of “them,” it will be assumed one doesn’t have the right to publish in “them,” let alone survey “them.” It is therefore hypothesized that most of you will not respond to this survey.  I would be delighted if this hypothesis is proven wrong and that the academic/literary, established-order milieu agora of ideas is more open than previously thought… and experienced.

#1:  Do you feel comfortable being listed by a site that bans other literary journals, while at the same time promotes itself as “Guide to Literary Magazines—Complete Listings”?  If not, please explain.  Would you be more apt to favor a non-censored list like those published by Poet’s Market and International Directory of Little Magazines & Small Presses?  If not, please explain.

[We're listed many places. I don't control who lists me where or why.] 

#2:  Since does act as a judge or censor (“filter,” in Hill’s words), do you believe it important that its publisher, Casey Hill, possess certain literary qualifications?  (To date, despite several requests I’ve made, Hill has refused to reveal what makes him qualified to act as an appropriate literary censor.)  If not, please explain.

[Nope. he can run his site, just like you run your magazine. People are free to do what they will.]
#3:  Do you believe that “high-end” (cream-of-the-crop) literary-journal publishers are likely to engage in vigorous debate or even communicate with someone not of the academic/literary, established-order milieu?  If not, why not? 

[You should see me at Redskins' games. I mean the lit world is not the end all be all of my life.]

#4:  Are you an avid proponent of free speech and vigorous debate or do you prefer eliminating certain ideas and critique from the literary agora?  If so, which ideas and which critique?

[We run very little nonfiction. No reviews since 1990. I'm only interested in fiction and poetry. And putting an end to the GOP.]


#5: Do you believe good arguments exist to rationalize censorship (curb free speech) beyond those provided by the First Amendment?  (Free speech is not legally permitted, for example, if it incites to riot.)  If so, please provide one or several arguments.

[I don't believe in censorship of any kind. But I print what I want to print in my own magazine no matter what somebody else tells me I HAVE TO PRINT or else. No way. If the GOP were to say I'd have to rename my magazine after Ronald Reagan I'll kill it before I do that.] 


#6.  Even though so-called four-letter words are protected by the First Amendment, are you against publishing such words?  If so, why?  Good taste?  If so, doesn’t “good taste” imply restricting literature to that produced and promoted by the academic/literary, established-order milieu and its proponents, while eliminating (censoring) literature critical of that milieu and its favored literature? 

[You've obviously never seen my magazine. Again, I run what I want to run 4-letter words? How about bestiality? Been there done that. We're fairly cutting edge. ] 


#7:  Do you agree that propriety and politeness should take precedence over free speech and vigorous debate, and that “impolite” individuals should be censored and/or mocked?  

[Not in my world.] 


#8:  Do you agree that some ideas and opinions might be deemed “impolite” and thus should be censored?  For example, would it be deemed impolite to suggest that you, as publisher, act as censor, though you might prefer the terms “editorial discretion” or “filter”?

[I'm not a nonprofit. I spend my own $ to run a mag and have done so for 31 years. The majority of that time it's been my own $. I lose $ on every issue. I will damn well rpint whatever I want to print. If I don't like what you send me I won't regardless of what it pertains to. You can call that whatever you wish. I call that being an editor.]

#9:  How might you define the academic/literary, established-order milieu?  Do you agree that, for example, it might be defined as literary-canon decision makers, as well as promoters, and include individuals and entities likely not to question and challenge those decisions and decision makers, but in fact simply embrace them? 
[There are levels and levels to the litworld. There are tastes. The LANGUAGE school poetry mags aren't going to run a sestina by an academic poet of the old school. You must realize that. Most people start mags because they have a circle of friends they want to see in print. Mags that last more than a few issues expand out from there. Most university magazines are edited by students and the staffs change every single semester.]

#10:  Is it possible that most literary journals listed by “filter” out poetry, essays, and other writing highly critical of the academic/literary, established-order milieu?  If the overwhelming majority of literary journals listed on act as “filters,” might that constitute implicit censorship of ideas and criticism by the cream of the crop of literary journals and a closed-door agora?  If not, please explain.
[Ridiculous.  Casey is hardly an academic or part of some academic conspiracy. When he began New Pages as a review mag he was as rebellious as you are.]


#11:  If in fact no literary journals highly critical of the academic/literary, established-order milieu appear in, might that concern you?  If not, why not? 

[Many independent mags are critical of the established lit scene be that Corporate publishing, $ making contests, judges, presses, or nepotism of any kind. The main problem being that the lit world is the smallest slice of the grant pie and most writers and poets know each other. I fought the NEA back in the late 70's for this same reason. ]


#12:  When it comes to censorship, good citizens in a democratic society should stand up and protest.  Whether or not one likes the censored person should be entirely immaterial and not be a determinant in the decision to protest.  Do you agree with that statement?  If not, why not? 

[We're not talking journalism. Most of the stories I received this summer were by guys and featured men playing with their dicks. Sorry. Maybe I'm getting old but I'm just not interested in printing stories by boys about their toys. Ya know. Been there done that. So I think there are phases that lit works through. The Beats are big and then by 1976 only one Kerouac book is in print and then he's resurrected and becomes popular again. Talk about somebody who got screwed by the media. He and Lenny Bruve and d.a. levy.] 


#13:  If you agree with question #12, would you be willing to send an email protest to 1) the staff members of the Academy of American Poets for its censorship of my opinions and/or 2) for its refusal to list The American Dissident on its website?  If not, please explain.

[Nope, I don't know you from Adam. And your entire process here is self-serving and kind of ridiculous. You may be the new Joan of Arc but you're coming off like a half-cocked paranoid schizophrenic.]

#14:  Do you believe my observation to be accurate that intolerance of critical opinions is rampant in the academic/literary, established-order milieu? 

[Hardly. Lots of people hate Dale Peck but he continues to hatchet most living writers. Robert Peters (whom I know a little and admire) has been doing that to literary Hitlers for decades in the small press world, as did Merritt Clifton. Having a strong opinion about anything in the USA is tantamount to becoming a pariah.]


#15:  Do you believe my observation to be accurate that self-congratulating, backslapping, “clubbiness,” and uniformity (disturbing conformity!) are rampant in the academic/literary, established-order milieu?  If so, do you believe that should be changed?  If so, how might you effect such change?

[Also true in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA. That's the American way. I don't see a way around that. People gravitate to like-minded people and things happen from there. Litmags are free to print who they wish. A contest that asks for an entry fee though should be fair. But even that's a battle.]


#16:  If in fact, you do act as a literary “filter,” do you ever include negative, dissident commentary and opinions regarding your journal and/or the academic/literary, established-order milieu in your journal in an effort to satisfy the following nonprofit-organizational regulation, deemed “a key principle regarding advocacy” by Daniel Frisch, Exempt Organizations Specialist of the IRS.  If you do include such commentary, how much space might you accord in each issue to it?  If not, why not?  
FINAL-REG, TAX-REGS, §1.501(c)(3)-l. Organizations organized and operated for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals
An organization may be educational even though it advocates a particular position or viewpoint so long as it presents a sufficiently full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts as to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion. On the other hand, an organization is not educational if its principal function is the mere presentation of unsupported opinion. 

[Ahh, but we're not a 401 mag. In fact we're a for profit LLC. Not that we make a dime. We don't. I lose about $5 thou per issue. Why do I bother? My wife asks me every single day. And receving stuff like this in the email makes me wonder why, too. A violent revolution seems more promising some days.]


Thank you in advance for participating in this survey.  If interested in the results, please let me know.  I will forward them to you. 


Only one literary editor contacted in this survey expressed a desire to examine the results.  I therefore sent this entire piece to that editor, Vivian Dorsel of upstreet, who sent a one sentence email with its regard:   

I didn’t say I’d publish it, George. I said I’d like to see it. 

Evidently, I’d erred and wrote the following:

Sure, that's cool.  Try to focus:  vigorous debate is a cornerstone of any thriving democracy.  Evidently, it is not very vigorous in your academic/literary established-order milieu. 

Dorsel responded. Was she actually interested in debating? 
I’m focusing just fine, George. If you were to take a look at upstreet, you’d see what kinds of work we publish: literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and an author interview in each issue. Survey results are way off the mark—more in the journalism category. Nothing personal.

My response was the following: 

I have looked at your site, as I’ve looked at many others.  I do not note any particular focus at all with the exception of writing for the sake of writing, which might as well be writing in support of Bush and Hillary (i.e., the status quo).  It’s the same old, same old.  Do we really need another same old, same old?  Could you have really missed my point on vigorous debate?  And who are you to make the determination that a literary survey written up as a damning essay is not literature, but journalism?  I suppose you’d probably make a similar statement regarding anything critical?  

Dorsel responded again:

Enough, George. You’re becoming a bore.

Then I responded: 
Ad hominem!  When logic fails, shoot the messenger!  Call him a “bore” and forget his message, and bury vigorous debate and democracy with it!  How facile, how unoriginal, how established-order puerile, and how intellectually vacuous for a literary editor!

Dorsel responded with a brief:  “Please stop writing to me.”  Thus, I stopped writing to her.  What to say about editors who are far more interested in getting into The Best American Poetry or the Pushcart Anthology, than in vigorous debate?  Clearly, those editors are not unique.  On the contrary, they’re rather common.  The academic/literary established order has become a gated community, rife with unchecked self-vaunting, rampant sycophancy, and the near absence of hardcore criticism because hardcore critics are rare and simply not tolerated.  That order has become a bastion where literary celebrity and canon are safely shielded from rigorous questioning and challenging. Yet vigorous debate is the cornerstone of any thriving democracy.  Why therefore do academic/literary established-order institutions and proponents reject it like the plague?  Evidently, business as usual is their modus operandi, not democracy. 

African American Review, Agni, Alaska Quarterly Review, Alimentum The Literature of Food, American Literary Review, American Poetry Review, The American Scholar, The Antioch Review, Arkansas Review, Ascent, Aufgabe, The Awakenings Review, Bayou, The Bellingham Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Bitter Oleander, Black Warrior Review, The Bloomsbury Review, Bookforum, The Briar Cliff Review, Brick, Brilliant Corners, Burnside Review, Callaloo, Calyx, The Capilano Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Cimarron Review, The Cincinnati Review, College Literature, Colorado Review, Comstock Review, Conduit, Connecticut Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Court Green, Cranky, Crazyhorse, Creative Nonfiction, CutBank, Cutthroat, divide, Eclipse, Ecotone, Elysian Fields Quarterly, Epicenter, Fiction International, Field, The Florida Review, Flyway, Folio, Fourth Genre, Fugue,  Gargoyle Magazine, Georgetown Review, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Gihon River Review, Glimmer Train Stories, Green Mountains Review, The Greensboro Review, Gulf Coast, Hanging Loose, Harpur Palate, The Healing Muse, Heartlands, Hiram Poetry Review, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, Inkwell, The Iowa Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Isotope, The Kenyon Review, The Ledge Magazine, Lilies and Cannonballs Review, The Louisville Review, The MacGuffin, Main Street Rag, The Malahat Review, Manoa, Many Mountains Moving, Michigan Quarterly Review, Minnetonka Review, The Modern Review, New Ohio Review, New Orleans Review, New England Review, New Letters, the new renaissance, New York Quarterly, Nimrod, Ninth Letter, No, On Spec, North Dakota Quarterly, Opium Magazine, The Paris Review, Paterson Literary Review, PHOEBE, PMS, Poet Lore, Poetry, Poetry International, Poets & Writers, Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine, The Portland Review, Prairie Schooner, PRISM international, Quarterly West, Rainbow Curve, RATTLE, Red Rock Review, Redivider, RHINO, River City, Rock & Sling, Ruminate, The Saint Ann's Review, Salamander, Saranac Review, Seneca Review, Sensations Magazine, The Sewanee Review, Shenandoah, Skidrow Penthouse, So to Speak, Southern Humanities Review, The Southern Review, StoryQuarterly, subTerrain, Swivel, Tampa Review, THEMA, TriQuarterly, turnrow, upstreet, Vallum, Versal, Virginia Quarterly Review, Vulcan, Water~Stone Review, Weber Studies, West Branch, Western American Literature, Western Humanities Review, World Literature Today, and Zahir.